Unsorted Wild Birds

Typical Warbler (genera Sylvia and Parisoma)

The typical warblers are small insectivorous birds belonging to the genera Sylvia and Parisoma of the “Old World warbler” (more properly: sylviid warbler) family Sylviidae.

There are about 20 species in the genus Sylvia, but their probable closest living relatives, Parisoma might actually belong herein too (Helbig 2001, Jønsson and Fjeldså 2006); the relationship to the African Hillbabbler (Pseudoalcippe abyssinica) and the White-browed Chinese Warbler (Rhopophilus pekinensis) are not entirely resolved but certainly more distant.

Typical warblers occur in the temperate and subtropical regions of western Eurasia and adjacent Africa, centered around the Mediterranean.

Many of the Sylvia species show sexual dimorphism (visual physical differences between the sexes) , with distinctive male and female plumages.

A common feature is that males of some species have black on the heads, replaced by brown, gray or similar dusky colors in females.

Species breeding in temperate regions are usually strongly migratory, although some are resident.

These are active, constantly moving, warblers usually associated with fairly open woodland, hedges or shrubs.


The typical warblers are now known to form one major lineage in a clade containing also the parrotbills and some taxa formerly considered true Old World babblers (Cibois 2003, Alström et al. 2006).

The other “Old World warblers” have been moved to their own families, entirely redelimiting the Sylviidae.

Because of their distinctness, the SylviaParisoma group might be considered a subfamily Sylviinae, but it must be noted that several “Old World warblers” are pending restudy with the new data in mind.

As denoted above, the genus Sylvia as presently defined is not monophyletic. The SylviaParisoma group apparently contains one distinct major lineage and several superspecies.

Temperate Eurasian superspecies (“atricapilla-borin group”)

  • Blackcap, Sylvia atricapilla
  • Garden Warbler, Sylvia borin

Parisoma superspecies

Banded Warbler, Parisoma boehmi : Found in Ethiopia, Kenya, Somalia, and Tanzania. Its natural habitat is dry savanna.

Layard’s Warbler, Parisoma layardi : Found in Lesotho, Namibia, and South Africa. This bird species inhabits subtropical or tropical dry shrubland

Rufous-vented Warbler (also known as the Chestnut-vented Warbler or Chestnut-vented Tit-Babbler), Parisoma subcaeruleum : The Rufous-vented Warbler is often placed in the genus Sylvia as Sylvia subcaeruleum.

The Rufous-vented Warbler breeds in southern Africa in Angola, Botswana, Zimbabwe, Zambia, Namibia, South Africa, Lesotho, Mozambique and Swaziland.

This is a common species found in a range of habitats fynbos, scrub, thickets and dry riverbeds. The Rufous-vented Warbler is 14-15 cm long and weighs around 16 g.

Its upperparts are grey-brown, and the tail is black with a broad white band at its tip. This warbler has a white eye ring. The throat is grey with heavy dark streaking, the breast and belly are grey, and the vent area is bright chestnut. The legs are black and the eyes are grey.

Males and females look alike, but the juvenile has has an unstreaked throat. The call is a loud fluted cheerup-chee-chee. Layard’s Tit-Babbler, Parisoma layardi, is the only similar species, but is paler, has more white in the tail, and lacks the chestnut vent.

The Rufous-vented Warbler builds a cup nest flow in vegetation. This species is monogamous, pairing for life. It is usually seen alone or in pairs, moving through vegetation as it forages for insects and other small invertebrates.

This common species has a large range, with an estimated extent of 2,800,000 km².

The population size is believed to be large, and the species is not believed to approach the thresholds for the population decline criterion of the IUCN Red List (i.e. declining more than 30% in ten years or three generations). For these reasons, the species is evaluated as Least Concern.


curruca clade

Brown Warbler, Parisoma lugens : Found in Africa.

Yemen Warbler, Sylvia buryi

Red Sea Warbler, Sylvia leucomelaena

(Western) Orphean Warbler, Sylvia hortensis

Eastern Orphean Warbler, Sylvia (hortensis) crassirostris

Lesser Whitethroat, Sylvia curruca

Hume’s Whitethroat, Sylvia althaea

Small Whitethroat, Sylvia minula: Formerly considered conspecific (of, or belonging to, the same species) with the Lesser Whitethroat; today these are seen as members of a superspecies. The present species together with Hume’s Whitethroat seems to form an Asian lineage in the superspecies.(Helbig 2001, Jønsson and Fjeldså 2006).

This is the aridland representative of the superspecies, occurring from dry lowlands of Xinjiang westwards to Turkmenistan and possibly into Iran. Following Gloger’s Rule, it is paler and more sandy in coloration and lacks the well-marked dark head sides of the Lesser Whitethroat, though the white throat is still distinctive.

It is also smaller and has a conspicuously smaller bill, adapted to the different food available in its habitat.

Three subspecies are usually recognized:

  • Sylvia minula munila – includes chuancheicaSylvia minula margelanicaSylvia minula jaxartica

The latter two might constitute a separate species, Margelanic Whitethroat. In addition, the presumed Lesser Whitethroat subspecies halimodendri and telengitica might actually belong to the Small Whitethroat, or alternatively might represent hybrid intergrades between, respectively, S. m. jaxartica and S. m. margelanica and the Lesser Whitethroat (Snow et al. 1998).

Margelanic Whitethroat, Sylvia (minula) margelanica

communismelanocephala assemblage

Barred Warbler, Sylvia nisoria – tentatively place here

Desert Warbler: The Desert Warblers are consist of two distinctive forms. These were previously treated as subspecies, but are now given specific status.

They are still each other’s closest living relatives, and their relationships to other typical warblers are not clear. They may be somewhat close to the Whitethroat (which in turn is not close to the Lesser Whitethroat).

Particularly, female Whitethroats look much like a richly-colored Asian Desert Warbler minus supercilium (line above eye). But it seems nonetheless that all these 3 taxa are fairly basal members of the genus.(Helbig 2001, Jønsson and Fjeldså 2006)

  • African Desert Warbler, Sylvia deserti is a resident breeder in northwest Africa at the fringe of the Sahara Desert. Basic color pale sandAsian Desert Warbler, Sylvia nana breeds in south central temperate Asia. This form is migratory, wintering in north easternmost Africa, Arabia and India. It has occurred as a rare vagrant as far west as Great Britain. Basic color gray sand

Sexes are almost identical in both. This is a small “warbler” with a sand-colored back and head, whitish underparts, and a yellow eye. Like its relatives, it is insectivorous, but will also take berries. The song is a distinctive jingle often given in an advertisement flight. This small passerine bird breeds in semi-desert and other arid environments, as long as some bushes for nesting occur. The nest is built in low shrub, and 4-6 eggs are laid.

Whitethroat, Sylvia communis

Spectacled Warbler, Sylvia conspicillata : The Spectacled Warbler breeds in north west Africa, southwest Europe from Iberia to Italy, and then further east on the eastern Mediterranean islands and coastal regions. It is mainly resident in Africa, but other populations migrate to winter in more widely in north and west Africa and Egypt. This bird is a rare vagrant to northern and western Europe. It also occurs in tome Atlantic islands. The subspecies orbitalis has been proposed for those of the Cape Verde Islands. The presumed subspecies for the Madeira birds, bella is today usually included in this taxon, as are the nirds of the Canary Islands, where the species is quite common except on El Hierro and known as zarzalero y ratonero (Álamo Tavio 1975). These are very small “warblers” and are intermediate between Whitethroats and Tristram’s Warbler in coloration. Spectacled Warblers are brown above and buff below, with chestnut wing patches and a white throat. Adult males have a grey head and the white eye ring which gives the species its name. Immature birds can be confused with both the Whitethroat and the Subalpine Warbler, and identification is difficult in the field. The song is a fast high warble. About the precise relationships of this bird, not much can be said with certainty. It seems though as if its intermediate appearance, apart from the autapomorphic white eye ring, indicates its relationships reasonably well. It is not the closest living relative of at least Tristram’s Warbler though.(Helbig 2001, Jønsson and Fjeldså 2006) These small passerine birds are found in dry open country with bushes. 3-6 eggs are laid in a nest in a bush. Like their relatives, the Spectacled Warbler is insectivorous.

Tristram’s Warbler, Sylvia deserticola : Found in Algeria, Libya, Mauritania, Morocco, Tunisia, and Western Sahara. This bird species inhabits subtropical or tropical dry shrubland.

Dartford Warbler, Sylvia undata : The Dartford Warbler breeds in the warmer parts of south west Europe and northwest Africa. Its breeding range lies west of a line from southern England to the heel of Italy. It is a mainly resident breeder, but there is some limited migration. Like many typical warblers, this species has distinct male and female plumages. The male of this small Sylvia has a grey back and head, reddish underparts, and a red eye. The reddish throat is spotted with white. The female is paler below, especially on the throat, and a browner grey below. The song is a distinctive rattling warble. It probably forms a superspecies with Tristram’s Warbler and this in turn seems close to Marmora’s Warbler and the Balearic Warbler (Helbig 2001, Jønsson and Fjeldså 2006). Altogether, this group of typical warblers bears an uncanny resemblance to the Wrentit, the only species of Sylviidae from the Americas (compare Wrentit with Dartford Warbler photo linked below). Still, the Wrentit is less closely related to the genus Sylvia than to the parrotbills (Cibois 2003, Pasquet 2006). Its visual similarity to the Dartford Warbler group is an astounding example of convergent evolution between birds closely related enough to already share many similarities evolving half a world apart in similar Mediterranean shrub habitat. This small, 13 cm, passerine bird breeds in heathlands often near coasts, with gorse bushes for nesting. Like its relatives, the Dartford Warbler is insectivorous, but will also take berries. The nest is built in low shrub, and 3-6 eggs are laid. Dartford Warblers were named for Dartford Heath in NW Kent, where the population became extinct in the early 20th century. They almost died out in the UK in the severe winter of 1962-3 when the national population dropped to just 10 pairs. They recovered in some areas but numbers are once again on the decline. However this species can recover well because of repeated nesting and a high survival rate for the young.

Marmora’s Warbler, Sylvia sarda: Marmora’s Warbler breeds on Mediterranean islands, typically including Corsica and Sardinia. The smaller Balearic Islands subspecies is increasingly given specific status as Balearic Warbler, Sylvia balearica. These two seem to form a superspecies which in turn groups with Tristram’s Warbler and the Dartford Warbler (Helbig 2001, Jønsson and Fjeldså 2006). They are generally resident but some birds migrate south to winter in north Africa. They are rare vagrants to northern and western Europe. These are small, long tailed, large-headed birds, overall very similar to their close relatives in thr Dartford Warbler group. Marmora’s Warblers are grey above and below, lacking the brick-red underparts of the Dartford Warbler. Adult males have darker patches on the forehead and between the eye and the pointed bill. The legs and iris are red. The song is a fast rattle. Immature birds can be confused with young Dartford Warblers, which are also grey below, but Marmora’s have a paler throat. Their iris is dark. The Balearic Warbler is 20% smaller than the nominate form. It is also paler below, with a pinkish tinge. These small passerine birds are found in open country with thorny bushes and heather. 3-5 eggs are laid in a nest in a bush. Like most “warblers”, they are insectivorous. This bird is named after the Italian naturalist Alberto della Marmora.

Balearic Warbler, Sylvia (sarda) balearica

Rüppell’s Warbler, Sylvia rueppelli

Cyprus Warbler, Sylvia melanothorax

(Western) Subalpine Warbler,Sylvia cantillans

Eastern Subalpine Warbler, Sylvia (cantillans) albistriata

Moltoni’s Warbler, Sylvia (cantillans) moltonii

Sardinian Warbler,Sylvia melanocephala

Sylvia (melanocephala) momus

Fayyum Warbler, Sylvia melanocephala/momus norissae – doubtfully distinct, extinct (c.1940)

Menetries’ Warbler, Sylvia mystacea

The relationships between the last group and the other species are not well resolved (Helbig 2001, Jønsson and Fjeldså 2006).


Gordon Ramel

Gordon is an ecologist with two degrees from Exeter University. He's also a teacher, a poet and the owner of 1,152 books. Oh - and he wrote this website.

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